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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Missing links

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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Morning Grind

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain tour the Florida Panhandle today, stumping in GOP-friendly counties that Bush won by double digits in 2000.

Bush may be wise, however, to court his base today and keep his distance from Miami, where three House Republicans are doing their best to link Teresa Heinz Kerry to Fidel Castro.

By our read, it's a tenuous link. But we'll see what the three Cuban-American House members from south Florida unveil at their 1:30 p.m. ET press conference. (More on this below).

Speaking of Florida, Bush will nominate Republican Rep. Porter Goss of Sanibel Island as his nominee to take over the CIA.

We were scratching our heads at press time, because the Florida secretary of state's office wasn't answering their phones.

But there must be a way for Bush's move to set the stage for a special election in Florida's 14th district, a GOP stronghold that Bush needs to turn out heavily this fall, which Gov. Jeb Bush could schedule to coincide with the November general election. Stay tuned on this.

Campaigning in Nevada today, John Kerry will offer us another striking, if somewhat tenuous, link -- between Bush's support for sending nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, a fiercely unpopular decision in this swing state Bush narrowly won in 2000, and his decision to offer limited funding for stem-cell research in 2001.

"Like his decisions on stem cell research ... George Bush stubbornly put politics and ideology ahead of sound science, risking the safety, security and economies of local communities around Yucca Mountain and around the country," reads a Camp Kerry memo. Kerry will make similar comments at noon (2 p.m. ET) at the Ralph Cadwallader Middle School, located near the route along which nuclear waste would travel to Yucca.

Serving ably as the president's defender-in-chief this week on the stem-cell debate is first lady Laura Bush, who called Kerry's claims that her husband had banned federal funding of research "so ridiculous."

"It's one of the myths that start during a campaign," she told the Associated Press, adding that Kerry has tried to make political hay of the issue "without saying what's right. I imagine he knows better."

(Think it's been a long trip for Teresa? On a slow pass through Arizona last night, Teresa took the microphone and said, "Hello, Nevada!" Kerry leaned into his fatigued wife quickly and said, "Arizona." "Oh, Arizona!" she replied. "We're in Arizona. We're still in Arizona. and we are going to Nevada. If you've been in as many places as we've been in in the past 12, 13 days, even if you have a map, the hours make you mix them all up.")

Also today, a Kerry campaign conference call on jobs, led by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Rubin holds the call at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Illinois race

In Illinois today, we have fresh signs that the Senate race could get weirder.

In his first full day as a candidate, Maryland Republican Alan Keyes called Barack Obama's support for abortion rights "the slaveholder's position" because it defies the Declaration of Independence.

"I would still be picking cotton if the country's moral principles had not been shaped by the Declaration of Independence," Keyes said. "[Obama] has broken and rejected those principles."

Obama, who like Keyes is black, said Republicans need to question whether "that's appropriate if he's going to use that kind of language."

Castro claims

Meanwhile in Miami, three Republican members -- Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother Mario and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- will charge that Teresa Kerry's foundation has "connections" to and has helped finance "Fidel Castro's Internet network."

A Diaz-Balart spokeswoman would not elaborate, but she did say it involved the Heinz Endowments' financial ties to a group called the Tides Center and the Tides Foundation.

There is a financial connection between the Heinz Endowments and the Tides organization, and between the Tides organization and an Internet project based in Cuba. But the connection between the Heinz Endowments and the Cuban project is very tenuous.

The Heinz Endowments have issued approximately $8.1 million in grants in the last 10 years to the Tides organization, a San Francisco-based group that funds a variety of socially progressive environmental, economic and social justice projects.

About $230,000 was issued to the Tides Foundation between 1994 and 1998 and the remainder issued to the Tides Center. All grants were issued for environmental and economic development projects in western Pennsylvania, where THK has spent much of her adult life. The Heinz Endowments money was specifically earmarked for these projects.

One organization that also hired the Tides Center to manage its financial and administrative affairs is the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), which promotes "peace and social and economic justice" around the world by helping countries develop Internet and computer networks. IGC says it has had projects in the former Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina, among others.

It also once had a project in Cuba which involved helping the island nation establish an Internet connection. IGC has another connection to the Tides organization: It received $13,000 in grants from the Tides Foundation between 1993 and 2002 for general support, but not specifically for the Cuba project.

"I seriously doubt that any money from Teresa Heinz Kerry or the Heinz Endowment would have gone to this [Cuba] project," said IGC Director Mark Graham told CNN. "I wish that were the case. We could have used the money."

"In recent weeks, the Heinz Endowments has been accused of using its funding of the Tides Center of Western Pennsylvania to advance a laundry list of partisan causes and fringe political groups. This accusation is simply wrong," Maxwell King, president of the Heinz Endowments, said in a written statement.


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